Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 2 in C major for Large Orchestra, Op. 140 (1866) [33:41]
Orchestral Prelude to Shakespeare's: The Tempest
in G minor,
WoO 49 (1879) [14:10]; Macbeth
in C minor, WoO 50 (1879) [11:22];
Romeo and Juliet
in D major, WoO 51 (1879) [9:46]; Othello
in D major, WoO 52 (1879) [8:14]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, 25-27 June 2012
CHANDOS CHSA 5117
Concurrently with this disc, Neeme Järvi, who
never seems to have a day off, was recording the first in a new Chandos
cycle of Tchaikovsky's ballets with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.
As outstanding as that new Sleeping Beauty
is (on CHSA
), it is far from easy to argue that the music-loving world
has a pressing need of yet another reading. By contrast, there are only
two previous recordings of Joachim Raff's eleven highly idiomatic, imaginative
symphonies, neither of them at all bad, but certainly leaving room for
improvement. The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Hans Stadlmair, recently
released as a handy boxed set (review
is probably the critics' favourite, although a bank loan may be required
to purchase it. The forerunner was an early-Nineties series on Marco
Polo with different orchestras, mainly from the Czech Republic and Slovakia,
all but one under Urs Schneider. These are currently available as mp3
downloads only. In 2001 and 2002 Naxos had the idea of reissuing the
Marco Polo discs under their own brand, but only two appeared (8.555411
and then the label either had a change of heart, or forgot.
The issue of sound quality is an important consideration for the prospective
purchaser in all these cycles - even this Chandos. For all the fancy
recording equipment listed in the booklet, audio here is something less
than immaculate. SACD this may be, but there is an undeniable lossy
quality to the sound - an all too common feature of recordings from
certain parts of Europe, as the Raff cycle on Marco Polo once demonstrated.
In fairness, it may not be noticeable to all ears. For example, the
Chandos website cites an early review from an SACD specialist, in which
the reviewer was "staggered by the excellence of the sound quality".
Caveat emptor! - there really is nothing to be staggered by, because
the audio is frankly not excellent.
On the other hand, it is no worse than the Tudor set, and better than
the Marco Polo. All things considered, Chandos may well be the best
bet, simply because Neeme Järvi is such a great conductor and the
Suisse Romande a pedigree orchestra that always seems to know the right
way to play works from this era. Audio aside, this first volume packs
a considerable emotional punch, and is generously timed to boot.
Raff's Second Symphony is like a Schubert-Schumann hybrid: lyrically
dramatic without getting over-excited, colourfully scored, elegantly
emphatic - a symphony that sounds like a symphony. The four Orchestral
Preludes after Shakespeare plays are suitably dramatic and, like Shakespeare
himself, eschew melodrama through their business-like briskness. Two
of the Preludes incidentally, Romeo and Juliet
co-starred alongside the Second Symphony on the Marco Polo original.
The booklet notes are detailed, informative and enthusiastic, although
annotator Avrohom Leichtling's assertions that the Romeo and Juliet
Prelude "looks forward to Webern" whilst the Macbeth
is a "film
score in all but fact" are as daft as they are doctrinaire. Leichtling
even wades briefly into surrealist waters when he claims that the four
Preludes are "all rather objectivist in tone and on that philosophical
basis it would not be too far-fetched to view them as prototypes for
imaginary novels by an author such as Ayn Rand"! Chandos continue with
their curious practice of shrinking the font to render it ever less
legible, their texts all but a tiny island of ink in a blank paper sea.
Apart from the first two symphonies and an earlier one now lost, all
Raff's symphonies come from an extremely fertile decade of writing ending
in 1879. These treasures lie ahead in Järvi's series; fingers crossed,
sound quality will improve quickly.
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